It was a Sunday morning. Having just finished my sermon, I stood scanning the crowd in a North American church where I had been invited to speak. God’s presence was there. I spotted a visitor toward the back who had all the outward trappings of a woman of the world. She had been invited to church that morning by a friend. As the music softly played and I asked if anybody wanted to come forward, she made her way to the altar where she wept and prayed for salvation. We rejoiced that a new name was written down in glory! The lady testified, so thankful the burden of guilt and sin was gone. She was a new disciple—a follower of Jesus. But as I left the service that morning, questions swirled in the back of my mind. Would anybody take the time to disciple this new convert? Would she be taught how to please God? Would someone explain the teachings of Jesus or would she be left on her own to figure things out? Only time would tell.
In the Bible we find two meanings for the Greek word mathēteuō: to make disciples. First it can stand for helping people get saved. When we lead someone to Christ, we are making disciples. This meaning is found in Acts 14:21: “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium and Antioch.” The “taught many” in this verse is to disciple. Paul and Barnabas preached and taught the gospel, many were saved, and then the two moved on to other cities. The second definition can also mean a long process of conversion, baptizing, and teaching. We get this sense of the word in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” This is not something done with a trip to the altar or in a weekend revival. This kind of discipling takes time and is hard work! The person must be led to salvation in Jesus Christ, baptized, and then taught all of the commands Jesus gave us.
Christians love to focus on the first meaning of discipleship—getting people saved. But we dare not neglect the longer more difficult aspect of discipleship—teaching Christ’s commands and modeling His love on an ongoing basis. Both aspects are desperately needed!
God has been helping us learn the value of discipleship. First of all, we want to see people saved. Over November and December of 2017 our prayer was that God would give us five souls before the end of the year. God answered that prayer, and by the end of December more than five people had prayed to be saved! But we have also been trying to fulfill the second meaning of discipleship. Several new converts are preparing for baptism. Lenny is one of them. She has been coming to church now for nearly a year. Through Bible studies, fellowship with believers, and discipleship classes God has been working in her life. Recently she told me how He helped her forgive an estranged sister. They had fought and bickered for a long time. Grudges and resentment had built between them. Even as their father lay on his deathbed, they stood in his room quarreling and disputing. After his death the two sisters did not talk for years. But Lenny gave her heart to God and began to learn what the Bible teaches. She realized the need to forgive and seek peace with her sister. With God’s help Lenny restored their long-lost relationship, and now they get along like old friends. The arduous process of discipleship is definitely worth it.
I often think of the words of the Ethiopian eunuch who sat reading Isaiah in his chariot. When Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, the man replied, “How can I unless someone should guide me?” Then Philip sat next to the eunuch and explained to him the meaning of the scriptures. This is what you and I must do. Let us take the time to sit down and explain the Word of God, answer questions, and guide men and women into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let us go make disciples!
~Eric Kuhns, HIM Missionary in Honduras